Yesterday a powerless (and hey, it's no big deal to type "powerless," or even read "powerless" -- see, it doesn't hurt a bit! -- but to feel it is, oh so different) feeling overtook me as I noticed how completely alone in the world I can feel at any given moment; there is nothing like my car breaking down to remind me. Even as I encountered the smallest, safest and least inconvenient breakdown – a dead battery while at home – I collapsed into the knowing that I was alone without a primary other who would drop the world to rescue me. (And I do mean collapse, but read on for the wheel turns.)
One gift I received from New England is the value of creating community that is geographically based; neighbors become very important when snow and ice storms hit. Now, although I have remained in the Pioneer Valley for this retreat time before traipsing across country, I am on the other side, way over here in Northfield, where I know no neighbors and my hosts are at this moment gallivanting through London. And while I am blessed with a multitude of friends and many deep connections with incredible people the world over, during a tangible physical emergency the gift of electronic communication can shimmer away like maya before a truth-telling, sword-wielding Hindu goddess.
Text message to Brazil: Car broken down; could you come help?
Facebook entry: Ulla, I know you are in Amsterdam, but could you stop by and jump my car?
Twitter: Is anybody out there? Can you find the mountain where I am hiding out? I’m at the top.
For many years I’ve contemplated the much explored paradox of how we are each essentially alone, even while simultaneously surrounded by community and loving family. And, clearly, this theme is a favorite parallel of divorce. We were a unit and now there is me. I used to buy food for 2, now it rots if I buy too much. The other person always had the spare key, now I have to rely on having only one shot at each event, rather than a back-up.
Last month, during a particularly unbearable heat wave I was finishing up teaching two intense summer classes (do not attempt this particular form of torture – one at a time is plenty) while preparing for my move to California. I was in a whirlwind of tag sales and trips to make donations, retrieving boxes and logistics for the POD, a new apartment and housemate in Ventura – In short I was required to make an average of 73 life-changing decisions each hour. The impact of leaving my animals, my house, my gardens, my ex-husband, my town, my community (not to mention my concept of who I was) behind was enormous. And did I mention the heat? Then I started to bleed, waking in the middle of the night to incredible pain.
I grew up fainting from menstrual cramps and other extreme pain, but it wasn’t until about two years ago that a phone call from my sister clarified why. She too was prone to fainting and was finally diagnosed with vasovagal syncope, a condition limiting oxygen to our brains leading to a loss of consciousness. A loss of consciousness. What powerful words. It also feels a bit like impending death; I kid you not.
Even before the diagnosis I had successfully avoided these episodes through self medicated with yoga, diet and careful attention; I hadn’t been bitten by old vasovagal for 7 years! But the unkind combination of extreme heat, exhaustion and stress was too much for my body and at 3 in the morning I woke up in excruciating pain, knowing I was in trouble. I made it to the bathroom, downed a couple of Advil and crawled back to bed. Then the fainting began. It’s sort of like a large bell of doom ringing far away and you can tell it tools for thee. So I screamed. I screamed the word for help in my language of the last 8 years, “Sam!”
We’d been pretty successful at sharing our home while getting divorced for the past 6 months, not an easy task. Many folks could not fathom that we were choosing to do this; there were days when neither of us wanted to be there, many days. But because of finances and, most importantly, the three amazing animals we lived with, we choose to stick it out. We were also committed to our friendship and separating in loving kindness, despite extreme discomfort and a lack of privacy most people (including us) need when licking wounds.
So, while I cannot say it didn’t cost me a small piece of an old, stubborn pride I didn’t know I had, I was immensely grateful that Sam did hear me and came running from his room to revive me and hold my hand for the two hours it took to recover, through vomiting, trips to the bathroom and a lot of pain. I cried a lot and heard myself say deliriously, “I don’t want to be alone,” over and over.
Today my return to consciousness includes sitting …and sitting …and sitting... with the paradox of being alone and yet still connected. I want to feel deep in my bones that I am safe in the arms of the world. I want to feel safe in each moment, regardless of the transient feelings arising in my gut, my craw, my vasovagal nerve.
…and to know it is safe to reach out and ask for help.